"No question, China is rising and we're playing catch up," he says. "The famous 'pivot to Asia' is certainly going to be a priority for Obama."
"The Defense secretary has warned, and others have warned before him, of the possibility of a cyber security 'Pearl Harbor,'" Ervin says of the potential for a cataclysmic electronic attack. "We're woefully underprepared for that."
Selecting the national security team will be a challenge for the president, from the cabinet down to senior aides. While some choices may seem obvious, there is no formula to making the right decision, says Michael O'Hanlon, senior fellow with the 21st Century Defense Initiative at the Brookings Institution.
"To just mention [the likely choices] somehow assumes that when a president chooses a cabinet, he only looks at the resume of people," O'Hanlon says. "That's an assumption people make too quickly when they get in the name game."
"The president is going to want to expand his options first, unless he knows all along who the one person is."
The president might, for example, choose someone from the military-industrial private sector as Secretary of Defense, O'Hanlon offers, as that department squares off against severe budget cuts. He may tap someone from among the "military commanders who don't think like military commanders," people like David Petraeus, the former head of the CIA. Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, or NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe Adm. James G. Stavridis could be on this list.
O'Hanlon also thinks the experiment has ended of reaching across the aisle for a major cabinet position.
"I don't think anyone gave any credit to a president for bringing another party into the cabinet," he says.
Amid a sea of conjecture, here are some of the potential picks for the president:
Secretary of State
John Kerry: First elected to U.S. Senate in 1985. Has been chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations since 2009, and was the Democratic Party's nominee for president in the 2004 election.
Tom Donilon: Currently the National Security advisor to President Obama. Previously assistant secretary of State for Public Affairs, and the chief of staff to the Secretary of State during the Clinton administration.
Susan Rice: Currently the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Previously served on the National Security Council and was assistant secretary of State for African Affairs under President Bill Clinton.
Bill Clinton: "It's a crazy idea that's worth including," says O'Hanlon, adding Obama's chief priority is to "fix the world and fix the economy."
"There's nothing about the Constitution that prevents him from doing that," he says, except that he could not serve in the presidential line of succession. Presidents in their second term often like to set a new precedent, O'Hanlon adds.
"When you're a second term president and you have a guy like Bill Clinton in your party, I don't think you have to worry about precedent," he says. "This is in many ways a safer choice than [Hillary Clinton]."
Department of Defense
Current Secretary Leon Panetta could depart. "I could understand why he'd want to leave, given his long service at CIA and DoD and his age and his love for California," says Ervin.
"Though probably not until after sequestration has been addressed," says Inderfurth. "Given the severity of the cuts that are being addressed, Secretary Panetta may be indispensable."
Michele Flournoy: Was under secretary of Defense for Policy from 2009-2012. Co-founded the Center for a New American Security in 2007. Was a principal deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Strategic and Threat Reduction and deputy assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy in the 1990s.
Ashton B. Carter: Currently the deputy secretary of Defense. Previously the under secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics from 2009-2011.
John Hamry: Served as deputy secretary of Defense, and undersecretary of Defense (comptroller) from 1993-1997. Currently the president and CEO of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Updated 11/12/12: This article has been updated to reflect David Petraeus stepping down as CIA director.